NEW YORK (AP) – Jon Stewart knows the key to democracy is an informed electorate. How he acts on this knowledge is another matter.

Some would say “The Daily Show,” a fake newscast where he’s the phony anchorman, is a half-hour of silliness meant to poke fun at politicians and everyone else who warrants it, with no higher goal than making you laugh.

Others argue that, by accepting the presidential race on its own twisted terms, “The Daily Show” can treat you to rare moments of clarity – while making you laugh, too.

Stewart and 18 fellow “Daily Show” jesters have triumphed with “America (The Book),” which, published by Warner Books just in time for the election, entered the New York Times best-seller list last week at No. 1.

Subtitled “A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction,” the book will surely spur readers to inaction with its 14-page election guide.

But the 228 pages that come before offer a wealth of other resources in the form of a dead-on parody of a high-school civics textbook, complete with illustrations, study guide and educational activities (to learn about the U.S. Supreme Court, you can cut out paper dolls of the nine justices, all appallingly nude, and dress them in the accompanying judicial robes).

The book reaches all the way back to cavemen (who in their pre-cable primitiveness “had to get their political news from only three networks”) then addresses the founding of America, the three branches of government, and the rigors of a candidate on the campaign trail in a section called “Learning to Hate the Land You’ll Govern.”

It has information you never knew before, like how the Warren Commission concluded that President Kennedy died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Worth, all by itself, the book’s $24.95 price: A hilarious chapter deconstructing the media. (To understand how a cable news network manages to fill each 24-hour cycle with no more than seven minutes of actual news, check the daily rundown disclosed on pages 138 and 139.)

As for the TV show, it makes a convincing case that, with journalism, bogus is the new real. But even in a political season when fact and fantasy seem more interchangeable than usual, Stewart shoots down any notion that “The Daily Show” is some kind of truth teller.

“Our meeting every morning is an explicit discussion of what’s going on in the world,” he allows. “But then the rest of the day is spent trying to hide that under layers of fart jokes.”

What “The Daily Show” can’t hide is its success. Airing at 11 p.m. EDT Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central, it averages a robust 1.1 million viewers, with the audience swelling to a record 2.4 million after the first presidential debate. Already the winner of a Peabody award, it snagged an Emmy last month for best variety series for the second year in a row, and another Emmy for writing.

There’s just one hitch.

“Doing a show every day is very ephemeral,” says Stewart during a recent interview at Comedy Central’s World News Headquarters in New York.

“Whether it’s a bad show or a good show, the next day it’s gone,” he points out. “So we wanted to see if we could create something slightly more enduring as evidence of our incompetence.”


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